Colonial Sandstock bricks at Old Sydney Town

posted 11 Feb 2013, 00:20 by ROOST 1788
  • THIS CONVERSATION RELATED TO SANDSTOCK BRICKS STORED AT OLD SYDNEY TOWN from Facebook site- the bold type is a post I wrote on BBOST, Tony Lowe is one of the persons who did the original 'dig' at Sydney Town Hall. He send me this information in an e-mail.

     Hi Sara, 

    Thank you for copying me into that.  I just wanted to comment on your Facebook post though, as I feel accuracy doesn’t hurt.


    Way back from 1788 to about 1810 there was nowhere to bury people and so they declared that position X was to be "IT"

    From 1788 to September 1792 people were buried in various places, including adjacent to the military barracks near York and Margaret streets and in the Rocks.  Governor Phillip and Rev Johnson obviously felt, with the colony thriving, a larger and more permanent burial place was required and set out what we now call the Old Sydney Burial Ground in Sept 1792.  It was expanded in 1812 and closed to burials in 1820. When it was first set out it was outside the town of Sydney and slowly became surrounded by the growing town.  There is history of the place on the City’s webpage -  


    IT later happened to be under Sydney Town Hall and Sydney Square ( next to St Andrews Cathedral) 

    By the 1860s a decision was made to locate the new town hall on the site.  By then the cemetery was in a serious state of disrepair and many of the graves were no longer marked.


    over the many years since most of the graves were destroyed; like building the railways; putting in storm water pipes; installing telecommunications etc etc.

    The main damage was done by locating the Town Hall on the site, then by the construction of the Town Hall arcade in 1974.  The original Town Hall construction was supposedly preceded by exhumation of the graves but as shown by recent work they probably only tried to exhume those graves encountered during  digging footings etc.  As the cemetery originally extended into George Street, the excavation for the railway line and services did also disturb the eastern side of the cemetery and there is reference to graves being found along the southern side of Druitt Street.


    In 1974 a major excavation was undertaken

    1974 saw the excavation for the Town Hall arcade and the creation of Sydney Square.  This was a major civil works program and the extensive bulk excavation saw many graves destroyed.  Judy Birmingham from Sydney Uni (hello Judy!) launched a rescue dig with some of her students and they were able to record several graves.  This was in the days before the Heritage Act (1977) which would have required prior investigation of such an important site.


    others that followed, mid to late 80's and I think the last one actually found was 1991 although it was only late last decade ( about 2009) that some were exhumed

    After 1974 there was a gap until I was involved in 1991 when excavation for major stormwater works encountered bones (which turned out to be animal).  Subsequent monitoring recorded the corner of a brick vault which had been nearly totally removed by a structural pier, another fairly well preserved brick vault and five more graves.  The stormwater pipes were rerouted to avoid disturbing the main brick vault. Some of these graves had been found and at least partially exhumed at the time of the construction of the Town Hall.  I was involved again in 2003 off Druitt Street when more grave sites were located during works to create a new entrance into the northern side of the building – again design were modified to avoid further disturbing the graves.  In 2007-2008 works to create a new basement in the lower ground Peace Hall exposed more than 60 graves.  Nearly all had been at least partially exhumed when the hall had been constructed in the 1880s.  Remaining skeletal remains were removed.  These excavations are described in some detail on the City’s webpage -


    and it was these ones that were on public display

    There was a public open day in 2008 when people could come into the Peace Hall and see the graves.  The queue stretched down George Street.


    I heard that one of the tomb/vaults was special and important for us too!

    The old cemetery is of national significance and all the graves are important.


    One of of the graves was thought to have been buried in c 1804 and when the archaeologists exhumed this grave it included not only the grave but also a cedar coffin and a brick vault in which the coffin was laid

    None of the graves excavated by us could be dated.  I think the same for Judy’s?  Both the 1974 and 1991 excavations revealed brick vaults with cedar coffins.


    Some reports even say a marble "table" lid.

    I am unaware of any marble altar-style monuments being found.  Brick vaults may have had a horizontal sandstone slab laid over the top.


    The cedar Coffin I believe is on display ( or so I've been told) at the "Historic Houses Trust" although I do not know where that is.

    The coffin recovered from 1974 is stored at the Museum of Sydney in Bridge Street, which is run by the HHT.  It has been on display but I don’t think is currently.


    The McLeay Museum (at NSW Uni? ) previously had this on display until it was permanently moved for safe keeping

    I remember seeing a coffin in the Macleay Museum (at Sydney Uni) in 1979.  I assume this was the 1974 coffin.  I don’t know why or when it was moved to HHT.


    the bricks and possibly the marble slab too were individually numbered and diagrams drawn and .... moved up to OLD SYDNEY TOWN for later reassembly and display! But it never was!

    Judy’s 1974 publication shows diagrams of the brick vaults from which the bricks were removed. 


    This important find should still be up there & if so should be of great historical importance & worth Heritage listing on it's own right!

    The heritage significance of the bricks, removed from their original provenance and now stored completely out of context, can be determined by applying the heritage assessment guidelines – these can be found at the Heritage Branch’s website -  I would doubt though that they would be found worthy of heritage listing in their own right.  I would judge that the Old Sydney Town site has to stand on other criteria, such as its importance to the social history of NSW or the authenticity of the recreation of the buildings for instance.


    [Graham William] The bricks were from the grave of the architect who ,designed the fist gov house. He died 1804/5 this what I was told ,but I cant remember who ,told me. The story was that they came from the original st Phillips church gave yard close to town hall. The coffin in one of the vaults in 1974 had the shadow of a nameplate on it.  There was no evidence who was buried in it.  I am unsure where the idea that the grave was of James Bloodsworth (brickmaker and builder, died 1804) comes from – there is evidence that there were several brick vaults in the cemetery, and presumably he could have been buried in any of these, as it makes sense that he was given the honour of such a tomb.  None of the graves I have excavated at the site have been identified.  I know of no graves being recovered from the site of St Phillips Church in Lang Park in Sydney.


    It’s all very interesting.  I see Beverley is involved too - hello Bev!


    All the best,



     Tony Lowe

    Casey & Lowe Pty Ltd